15 May 2012

Will GENDA Pass This Time?

Ten years ago, New York City amended its Human Rights Law with language to forbid discrimination in housing, employment and city services on the basis of gender identity and expression.  At that time, seventy-four jurisdictions had such laws.

Now, New York State is considering something similar.  Sixteen other states and 143 cities and counties--in all parts of the country--have such laws.  Lest you think that Empire State lawmakers have suddenly been enlightened, think again.  The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act  (GENDA) has been up for vote for years now.  It usually passes in the State Assembly, in which Democrats have long dominated, but fails in the State Senate.  At various times, the Senate has had Republican majorities, but even when that party didn't have the numbers, it had influential leaders, like Joseph Bruno, from conservative upstate areas.

After Bruno chose not to seek re-election in 2008, many of us thought the Act had a greater chance of becoming law.  Our optimism was further stoked by the "tipping" of the Senate to a Democratic majority, however slight it may be.  Plus, in Andrew Cuomo, we now have a governor who's willing to sign the Act into law.  

What disheartens us, though, is that the State continues to be "late to the party."  In the same year the City amended its human rights laws to protect transgender people, the State finally passed the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act.  Insiders say that it passed only because the provisions encoded in GENDA were left out of it.  It seems that, as distasteful as gay rights may have been to some conservatives, lesbians and gays had become too large a voting bloc to ignore.  (They tend to vote at higher rates than the population in general.)  On the other hand, the numbers of transgender people are much smaller, and we tend to be poorer than gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians.  Plus, the fact that so many of us--especially our young--are unemployed, or even homeless, makes it harder for us to organize campaigns.

I hope that the State finally does what sixteen others have already done--and what it should have done ten years ago, when the City recognized gender identity and expression in its human rights laws.